1968 in 2008
Robert Gildea describes a new Europe-wide project to investigate the impact of 1968 and its sometimes bitter legacy.
There is an iconic picture of a student during the events of May 1968 in Paris, picking up a cobble stone in order to throw it at riot police, or to strengthen the barricade. It says a number of things about the events: that their epicentre was the Latin Quarter of Paris, that they were a flash which occurred in May 1968 but then faded, and that they involved young, male, middle-class students.
Despite the currency of the term ‘May ’68’, these events were not confined to Paris, nor to May ’68. 1968 was a global movement which exploded in Japan and the United States before it reached Europe. Agitation began in the Netherlands in 1965, in Italy in 1966, in West Germany in 1967, when students demonstrated against the state visit of the Shah of Iran, while in Poland student protest was triggered when the Communist authorities banned the performance of a patriotic play in March 1968. Even in France, students demonstrated in Strasbourg, Nantes and Nanterre before they occupied the Sorbonne. Events in Paris served to catalyse these diverse movements but they did not invent them.